NEW YORK (AP) - Former President Donald Trump returned to a New York court Tuesday to watch and deplore the civil fraud trial that threatens to disrupt his real estate empire, but he got no face-to-face encounter — for now — with the star witness against him.
After attending the trial's first three days earlier this month, Trump initially planned a return to coincide with testimony by Michael Cohen, his onetime attorney turned outspoken foe. But Cohen's testimony was delayed until at least next week, with Cohen citing a health problem.
Instead, Trump sat in on a less splashy day in the trial, hearing testimony from one of his company’s accountants, Donna Kidder. Under point-by-point questioning about the intricacies of internal spreadsheets, she testified that she was told to make some assumptions favorable to the company.
For example, she said, longtime former Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg told her to act as if all space in a Trump-owned Wall Street office building would be leased by a certain date, even if some space was currently vacant. For a Park Avenue residential tower, she was told to project that unsold units "would all sell out" in a certain timeframe.
Kidder said she wasn’t aware that those assumptions would be used to improve Trump’s bottom line on financial statements that helped his company make deals and get financing and insurance.
Doug Larson, a certified appraiser and commercial real estate executive, was taken aback when told on the stand that he was repeatedly cited as an outside expert in former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney ’s valuation spreadsheets.
"It’s inappropriate and inaccurate," Larson testified. "I should have been told, and an appraisal should have been ordered."
Larson said he never suggested or condoned the ways that McConney valued various properties.
For example, rather than using rates of return for comparable retail properties when gauging the worth of a Trump-owned retail space formerly known as Niketown, McConney relied on rates for a different type of property, which "doesn’t make sense," Larson testified.
He said he appraised a Trump-owned Wall Street building at $540 million in 2015, while McConney valued it at $735.4 million on Trump's financial statement.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit alleges that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and inflating his net worth on his financial statements.
Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, denies any wrongdoing. He says his assets were actually undervalued and maintains that disclaimers on his financial statements essentially told banks and other recipients to check the numbers out for themselves.
"We built a great company — a lot of cash, it’s got a lot of great assets, some of the greatest real estate assets anywhere in the world," he said as he headed into court, dismissing the lawsuit as "a witch hunt by a radical lunatic attorney general" bent on dragging down his presidential run.
Although he's attending the trial by choice, Trump complained it was taking him off the campaign trail.
The attorney general, a Democrat, started investigating Trump in 2019 after Cohen testified to Congress that the billionaire politician had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets to gain favorable loan terms and tax benefits. She didn’t comment on the case Tuesday.
Cohen said Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he isn’t dodging Trump. In a text message, he said he has an "incredibly painful" medical condition but anticipates testifying as soon as the pain subsides.
With Trump at the defense table Tuesday, one of his lawyers, Christopher Kise, objected to what he deemed "very granular" testimony from Kidder.
If technical, it did provide a window into Trump Organization accounting practices, including how the company paid for a $25 million settlement in former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s 2013 lawsuit claiming that the now-defunct Trump University real estate seminar program defrauded students. Kidder noted a spreadsheet entry about a $12 million loan to resolve suits from Schneiderman and others.
Outside court, Trump recapped his various criticisms of the case and about Judge Arthur Engoron, a Democrat who's hearing it without jurors. The suit was brought under a state law that doesn't allow for a jury. Trump said that he had come to like and respect Engoron but believed that Democrats were "pushing him around like a pinball."
After Trump maligned a key court staffer on social media during the trial's first days, the judge issued a limited gag order, warning participants in the case not to smear members of his staff. The judge also ordered Trump to delete the post.
Trump also faces a narrow gag order in his Washington, D.C., election interference criminal case. Imposed Monday, the order bars the former president from making statements targeting prosecutors, possible witnesses and court staff. Trump has said he will appeal the restriction, and he complained Tuesday that "my speech been taken away from me."
In a pretrial decision in the New York civil case last month, Engoron resolved the top claim, ruling that Trump and his company committed years of fraud by exaggerating the value of Trump’s assets and net worth on his financial statements.
As punishment, Engoron ordered that a court-appointed receiver take control of some Trump companies, putting the future oversight of Trump Tower and other marquee properties in question. An appeals court has since blocked enforcement of that aspect of the ruling for now.
The trial concerns six remaining claims in the lawsuit, including allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.